Monday, November 23, 2009

Not Good:

Steve Benen lays out what appears to be the major form of Democratic Strategery with the recalcitrant "centrist" Dems on Health Care. That is, that negotiations take place between the centrists, who don't want reform at all, and the progressives, who really want a bill.

This necessarily affects negotiations. One contingent wants to avoid failure; the other contingent considers failure a satisfactory outcome. Both sides know what the other side is thinking.

Yes, progressive Democrats can force the issue, keep the bill intact, and force Nelson, Landrieu, Lieberman, and Lincoln to kill the legislation, in the process making clear exactly who was responsible for the debacle. But that's cold comfort -- the goal isn't to position center-right Dems to take the blame for failure; the goal ostensibly is to pass a bill that will do a lot of good for a lot of people.

The push for more "compromise" isn't going to be pretty.

Steve has put his finger on it: if that's the strategy it is a crashingly stupid one. Any negotiator could tell you that right off. But that isn't the only strategy. Its just the most unrewarding.

Now, its true enough that the Democratic leadership has so badly bungled the pre-bill negotiations that they have allowed themselves to arrive at a crucial series of bottlenecks without properly controlling the bill, or the caucus. First of all, in order to buy the crucial first vote to start debate Reid needlessly watered down the Public Option to make it an Opt Out. That makes the "compromise position" no Public Option at all. A stronger starting point would have been, as everyone knows, either Medicare for All, or Medicare Plus Five, or anything else that could be cut in half and still deliver the goods at the end of the day. No doubt Reid "had" to do it because of the free range chickens in the caucus--but that only shoves the responsibility for buying or bludgeoning their votes farther down the historical timeline. Since we were always going to reach this point, one way or another, there's no excuse for leaving the heavy lifting until the last possible moment and then shoving it off on the progressives in the caucus since the power between "I don't care" and "I really want this" doesn't lie with the progressives. That's because the Democrats seem to be conceiving of the situation as one in which the centrist dems and the republicans are on one side of a see/saw and the progressives are on the other. Reid and the White House are some kind of fulcrum in between. But that's wrong--or if its the right analogy they need to realize that they have the power to change the terms of the debate by moving the fulcrum.

The moving of the fulcrum can be understood in a couple of ways: changing the partners to the debate, changing the terrain of the debate, changing the focus of the negotiations. The White House has tried changing the partners to the debate--by getting to Snowe and Collins. This would have shifted the leverage dramatically from the Dems to Snowe and Collins so it wasn't a very good strategy from the point of view of the actual Bill. Changing the focus of the negotiations would have been accomplished by a better/harder bargaining strategy from the get go so that instead of struggling with the lesser public option we were struggling to keep a stronger one.

Changing the terrain of the debate is my preferred option. What does that mean? It means recognizing something that the Democrats appear not to grasp: the power in any inter-bill negotiations lie with the parties to that negotiation, but the power as a whole lies with the White House, Reid, and the Caucus as a whole if they choose to use that power. This is the power to continue to act, successfully, as a Senator for the rest of your Senatorial career. What is at issue is not just this bill but all future bills and Senatorial comity itself.

A narrow focus on this bill, and bargaining for advantage within this bill, means that all compromises are cut from the body of Health Care Reform. The hand of the recalcitrant Senators is strengthened as long as the progressives and Reid are simply trying to gain their votes within the context of Health Care--bribing them with Health Care goodies, or offering to cut Health Care goodies. But if the Administration and the Caucus expands their focus to everything else the Senate does, or will do, the terrain shifts dramatically. As long as bitter, ugly, and fruitless negotiations over health care are permitted to go on alongside business as usual there is no incentive for the centrist Dems to act like Democrats and put party loyalty ahead of private gain. So link up--link up these votes (for both clotures) to future standing in the caucus, future goodies, future assistance from the rest of the caucus. If you do that the hand of the progressives *as colleagues* is strengthened immeasurably. Suddenly they have something to trade for those votes--not to trade away. This boils down to: Strip them of their Chairmanships. Strip them of coatroom priviliges. Strip them of any DSCC funding or assistance. Strip them of any offers to put forward legislation with them, or to work with them on legislation. Total Ban. Total Shunning.

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